Howard Rubenstein, who burnished the reputations of people ranging from Abe Beame to George Steinbrenner to Donald Trump, died on Dec. 29 at the age of 88.
The founding chairman and president of Rubenstein Associates, Rubenstein was likely best known for his efforts to help those in the public eye negotiate scandals and crises. Serving clients in the worlds of politics, business, real estate and entertainment, he provided them with what usually proved to be an effective playbook for handing political, personal or legal difficulties.
Key to Rubenstein’s crisis strategy was orchestrating the flow of information in the face of a crisis, rather than trying to silence bad publicity. “Not what kind of spin we can put on,” he told the New York Times in a 1995 interview, “but what’s the right thing to do."
Rubenstein started up his firm in 1954, after dropping out of Harvard Law School. He eventually earned his law degree from St. John’s University in 1959, and took a six-month break from the PR industry to serve as assistant counsel to the House Judiciary Committee.
While Rubenstein came to that job through his connection with Committee chairman Emmanuel Celler, a Brooklyn Democrat, his political connections crossed party lines, including Rudolph Giuliani, Ed Koch and David Dinkins. That breadth of contacts proved an invaluable tool as he solidified his place as a power broker on the New York scene.
Rubenstein also worked with such media figures as Marv Alpert, whom he helped through a 1997 sex scandal, and talk-show host Kathy Lee Gifford, who faced criticism after her clothing line was charged with using child labor.
But throughout his career, Rubenstein insisted on the primary importance of ethics in public relations. “Any business that makes ethics a bedrock of its organization will create an image that lasts longer than a lifetime,” he told Leaders Magazine in 2016.